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HARTFORD, Conn.—Carrying banners and enthusiastically chanting their union affiliation, hundreds of commercial building cleaners joined elected officials and leaders in labor and faith organizations to demand a fair contract at a packed rally in front of the Old State House on Wednesday afternoon.
Negotiations between 32BJ SEIU and the local contractors association began on November 19, and continued for a second session this week. Despite a local unemployment rate of about 5 percent and billions in profits for local companies, the contractors have not proposed any wage increases, nor proposed the necessary increase in funds to maintain health benefits and pensions. They have also said they will not accept a proposal to create five paid sick days, which all workers need.
“We’re here to let the contractors association know that we are serious about winning a fair contract,” said Juan Hernandez, District Leader of 32BJ SEIU. “We are united and ready to do what it takes to help raise America, and keep our working communities in Hartford strong.”
“Like everybody, we need to keep up with rising costs of living,” said Mara Morales, a downtown office cleaner and union member for 20 years. “My husband and I have three kids. My family can’t afford the proposals that the contractors are offering now.”
The hundreds of cleaners in attendance were joined by allies from as far away as Boston, as well as by elected officials and leaders in faith and labor organizations.
“I stand behind these workers’ demand for a fair contract,” said Hartford Mayor-Elect Luke Bronin in a statement. “”I stand behind these workers’ demand for a good contract, with fair wages and benefits,” said Hartford Mayor-Elect Luke Bronin. “These cleaners are our neighbors, and what they’re seeking is not only fair for them, but important for our community — as well as for their customers, since everyone benefits from a strong, reliable, healthy and experienced workforce.”
“We can’t let the middle-class continue to erode,” said State Senator Eric Coleman, Deputy President Pro Tempore. “Everyone who works full-time at a demanding job should be able to pay his bills. These cleaners deserve no less — they form the backbone of our local economy and of communities in and around Hartford.”
“This fight isn’t just about cleaners, it’s about whether major cities like Hartford can support working families,” said State Representative Edwin Vargas, who represents Hartford’s 6th Assembly District. “This fight is also the fight of all these families to remain in the middle class, to do better for the next generation, to make a decent living, and yes, to have the right to belong to a union.”
“Workers across Connecticut stand in solidarity with these janitors,” said Lori Pelletier, President of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, the largest labor federation in the state. “The local real-estate industry has returned to the levels of occupancy they had before the recession, and the insurance industry has made billions in profits. They can afford a fair proposal that helps our economy, their clients, and local families prosper.”
The agreement with the local Hartford County Contractors association covers 2,100 janitors in Hartford County. Hartford city cleaners earn a wage of $14.80 an hour, and work at approximately 160 office buildings and facilities in the area, including Aetna, Travelers Insurance, the University of Connecticut, and state office buildings.
With more than 145,000 members in 11 states and Washington DC, including 4,000 members in Connecticut, 32BJ is the largest building service workers union in the country.